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Everything You Need to Know About Vices in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Amsterdam Insider Guides
by Jesica Versichele Sep 1, 2023

Amsterdam’s Red Light District (AKA De Wallen) is a small area that is densely packed with some of Amsterdam’s best-known businesses: coffeeshops, sex-show venues, window brothels, and sex clubs. But the Red Light District is not just for those looking to get high or get laid, the neighborhood has mix of art venues and unusual museums that can be enjoyed by everyone. No matter what you’re looking for in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, there are do’s and don’ts you should adhere to.

Where is the Amsterdam Red Light District

The Red Light District, known locally as De Wallen, is the oldest neighborhood in Amsterdam. It is in close proximity to central landmarks such as Dam Square (three minutes on foot) and the main train station, Amsterdam Centraal (less than 10 minutes on foot). Oude Kerk (Old Church), the city’s oldest building, is located within De Wallen.

What is the Red Light District in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam's Red Light District

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The Amsterdam Red Light District, just like red light districts in other parts of the world, is an area of a city where there are a lot of sex-oriented businesses, such as sex clubs, sex show venues, brothels, strip clubs, etc. In De Wallen, there are also a number of coffeeshops (establishments that sell cannabis products) and bars.

There are three red light districts in Amsterdam: De Wallen, Singelgebied, and Ruysdaelkadeis, with De Wallen being the most famous.

Is Amsterdam’s Red Light District legal?

In the Netherlands, prostitution is legal, but only if it involves sex between consenting adults (people over the age of 21). Brothels, sex clubs, and other businesses where one can buy sex, need a special license to operate legally.

When it comes to cannabis, the Netherlands is tolerant of those who possess, consume, and buy the drug in a maximum amount of 0.18 ounces (five grams). Since May 25, 2023, it is illegal for anyone to smoke cannabis on the streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, Nieuwmarkt, and Dam Square. Those who are caught breaking the law will be fined $110 (100 €). Smoking cannabis inside coffeeshops and on the terraces of coffeeshops remains tolerated. (Note that you must be 18 or older to enter a coffeeshop.)

What drugs are legal in Amsterdam’s Red Light District?

All drugs are illegal in the Netherlands, including cannabis. However, the law is not enforced for those who buy, consume, or possess 0.18 ounces (five grams) or less of cannabis. Coffeeshops selling small quantities for personal use are allowed to operate with a special license.

What time should I visit the Red Light District?

The Red Light District, or De Wallen, is a normal neighborhood, with businesses of all kinds, year-round residents, and no gates, therefore, it is always open to visitors, no matter the time of day. If you’re thinking of visiting Old Church (the city’s oldest building), patronizing a coffeeshop, a bar, a sex club, or a brothel, the best time to go is when they are open so just check out their hours of operation.

Is Amsterdam’s Red Light District safe?

There is a heavy police presence in the Red Light District, keeping the area safe. However, as is the case in any areas packed with tourists, you should keep an eye out for pickpockets.

What are the rules of the Red Light District? Seven do’s and don’ts

Don’t drink in public

No alcohol sign in Amsterdam's Red Light District

Photo: De Jongh Photography/Shutterstock

There is no shortage of places where you can get an adult beverage in the Red Light District, but limit your drinking to designated areas, i.e. inside and on the terraces outside of bars. Don’t drink alcohol on the street unless you want a serious fine. Public drunkenness is also not tolerated and can lend you a fine of $110 (100 €).

Do go to church

Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Amsterdam

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Two of Amsterdam’s most important cultural sites are located in the Red Light District, and they happen to both be churches turned into museums. The first is the Oude Kerk (old church). Built in 1305, it’s the oldest building in Amsterdam. Inside, you can learn about the history of the church and catch a classical music concert or check out a contemporary art exhibition.

Onze Lieve Heer op Zolder (Our Lord in the Attic) is a little less conventional. Built in 1663 in a beautiful canal house that once belonged to a wealthy inhabitant of the city, Our Lord in the Attic is a clandestine — celebrating mass in public was forbidden in 17th-century Amsterdam — and today is a museum dedicated to tolerance and religious freedom.

Don’t buy illegal drugs

Cannabis is illegal in Amsterdam. That said, the authorities have a tolerance policy, so coffeeshops are allowed to sell cannabis and you won’t be prosecuted for possessing or buying cannabis if the amount is smaller than 0.18 ounces (five grams). Above that amount, however, all bets are off.

The tolerance policy doesn’t extend to other drugs. Amsterdam is not a free-for-all, so don’t go about town possessing, buying, and using pills, heroin, cocaine, and meth — you will be in serious trouble if caught.

Do treat others as you would like to be treated — including sex workers

Many residents of the red-light district complain that the tourists treat the area like a theme park. The Red Light District is a neighborhood of Amsterdam where people live, work, and go about their daily lives. Keep your voice to a respectable level at night, don’t throw up on people’s doorstep, don’t pee all over the place, and don’t leave trash behind. Most importantly, don’t harass the sex workers or take photos/videos of them without their consent. They’re people, too.

Do visit the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution

Museum of Prostitution in Amsterdam

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If you want to find out what is behind the windows of the shops in the Red light District without visiting one yourself, check out the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution.

Located in a former brothel in a 17th-century canal house, the museum is a window into the lives of the sex workers in the district. Inside, you can walk through replicas of the rooms where the sex workers meet their clients and listen to interviews of the women and men who work in the neighborhood.

Where to stay in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

If you’re looking to stay in a sophisticated place, check out Matador’s selection of the most luxurious Amsterdam hotels close to all major must-see sights. For short-term rentals, have a look at Matador’s list of Amsterdam Airbnbs in the city’s coolest neighborhoods.

We hope you love the hotels we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

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